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Like a pack of teeny-boppers huddled outside a record store waiting for the latest boy-band CD, NHL general managers breathlessly await the Monday noon starting gun for the most wide-open free agent market in the history of professional sports. There is just one problem here, though. The GM's are breathless not in anticipation of all the deals they hope to make, but instead are petrified at the thought of making a bad move, which in the new salary cap era, means a hamstrung team for years on end. The penalty for making a rotten deal just got much, much worse, so I would expect most GM's to tread very cautiously in the coming days.

That, of course, leads open an opportunity for a daring executive who strikes quickly and gets the pieces he wants right away. Most teams have as much as half of a roster to fill via free agency, which means that a team can be overhauled virtually overnight. Will the new rules, and their implied shift back towards up-and-down, firewagon hockey result in wholesale changes for certain teams? For instance, could we finally see an implementation of the Swedish "torpedo" system that was toyed with in recent years by Scotty Bowman? One of the main reasons he gave for not using it in the NHL was the two-line offsides pass rule, which has now been scrapped.

Either way, the next few weeks will be a hot-stove leaguer's dream, considering the depth of talent available at every position. Cup-winning goalies, former MVP's, 50-goal scorers, elite young talent and scrappy defensemen are all available. Too bad the NHL didn't hook up eBay on this one - it could have made for a good promotion and some fun commercials. I could just see Bobby Clarke throwing his PC out the window after getting outbid at the last second on some knuckle-dragging, slack-jawed goon.

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